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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


The following letter was submitted by Robert Williams, executive director of the New York State Gaming Commission.

I am writing in response to your October 18, 2021 column “View from The Eighth Pole: Of Rulings and Squeaky Clean Racing.” I feel the obligation to object to your sarcastic characterization, which creates a purposefully inaccurate picture of the efficacy of drug testing in New York.

You wrote that you could “only find one ruling for a medication violation in all of 2021 at New York Racing Association tracks … [and] zero positive tests in the New York State Gaming Commission rulings database in 2020 and zero positives in 2019 for NYRA tracks.” See pole-of-rulings-and-squeaky-clean-racing/.

Limiting your data examination to such a narrow band suggests an intention to cast aspersions on the efficacy of the New York drug testing.

First, your analysis suggests New York does not have race day drug positives. If you banded your data over a more useful period – 10 years – you would have found 541 race day positives at all New York tracks. Second, examining only race day positives at New York Racing Association (NYRA) tracks (Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course) during such 10-year look-back, you would have identified over 100 drug positives. Third, intentionally limiting your data set to NYRA racetracks enables you to purposefully ignore the seven Standardbred and other Thoroughbred racetracks in operation. The arithmetic illustrates over the last 10 years there have been over 160 race day positives at New York Thoroughbred tracks and over 370 race day positives at New York Standardbred tracks.

It is obvious to the most casual reader your intention was to mislead people in believing there has been one race day drug positive in two years. Your narrative disregards readily available data, misleading readers into believing that the New York Equine Drug Testing and Research Program (Laboratory) is either inept or negligent in its responsibilities.

I take great offense at your gratuitous shot at Laboratory director George Maylin, DVM, PhD. Even the most casual follower of equine drug testing is aware that Dr. Maylin developed many of the forensic equine drug testing techniques used worldwide. He has performed groundbreaking work in determining the presence of drugs that may affect the performance of equine athletes, including recently developing screening tests for:

• IOX-2, a new class of drugs that increases the body’s own erythropoietin gene to produce more red blood cells. It accomplishes the same response as the administration of erythropoietin, or EPO. It is a performance enhancing drug and a gene doper.

• Clenpenterol, a beta-2 agonist with pharmacologic properties like clenbuterol which is not approved for use in horses.

• AH 7921, an experimental synthetic opioid with pharmacologic properties similar to morphine-like drugs, which is not approved in the United States for use in horses or humans.

• Kratom (mitragyna speciosa), a natural plant that contains the psychoactive alkaloid mitragynine that has opium-like analgesic effects and coca-like stimulant effects.

• Yellow Rocket (barbarea vulgaris), a plant that contains the alkaloid barbarin, which is used to metabolize bararin to aminorex, a central nervous system stimulant.

• Glaucine, an alkaloid with anti-inflammatory, antitussive, bronchodilator and central nervous system effects.

All of these research discoveries have been shared with other drug testing laboratories around the world and have been widely reported by the racing press.

While I am certain you are aware the Laboratory is one of only nine in the United States that have been fully-accredited by the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium (RMTC), you may not be aware what is necessary to obtain and maintain certification. The accreditation process begins with a document review of the laboratory’s processes by an independent auditor with specific experience in horse racing laboratory operations. Once the documentation is reviewed, the laboratory must also submit to a multi-day site inspection by another independent assessor. As part of the accreditation requirements, laboratories are required to participate in an external quality assurance program that determines if laboratories have the capabilities required to detect substances of concern at the concentrations that are mandated by the RMTC model rule recommendations. All participating laboratories must also be ISO 17025-accredited to even apply.

To maintain RMTC accreditation, a laboratory must maintain its ISO 17025-accreditation and annually pass RMTC proficiency sample testing. Additionally, the Horseracing Testing Laboratory Committee of the RMTC also conducts a review of the Laboratory’s funded research and internal laboratory development. This calendar year the HTLC found the Laboratory in good standing. In fact, since granting the New York Drug Testing and Research Program has remained in good standing for all its accreditations.

Your column also casts aspersions on Dr. Maylin’s credibility, positing that the lack of recent positives at NYRA racetracks might be due to his using different criteria than laboratories in other racing states. You further state that “Maybe the [New York Laboratory] isn’t very good.”

A quick look at the annual numbers finds race day positives in 2020 – a VERY anomalous year given the 40 percent reduction in racing dates conducted – for clenbuterol, flunixin, guaifenesin, methocarbamol, methylprednisolone, and phenylbutazone. In 2019 there were positives for adrenochrome monosemicarbazone, clenbuterol, clenpenterol, dexamethasone, flumethasone, flunixin, furosemide, guaifenesin, IOX-2, isoflupredone, methocarbamol, methylprednisolone, phenylbutazone, phenytoin, and propantheline.

Your commentary failed to note any of the above, I guess because it didn’t fit your narrative about the lack of medication violations.

New York has been successful in identifying and punishing those who seek to cheat, but we understand that those with the propensity to use unlawful or illegal drugs persist. We appreciate the dedication and diligence of Dr. Maylin and the dozens of employees of the New York Equine Drug Testing and Research Program who are committed to ensuring the integrity of horse racing and protecting equine athletes participating in the sport.

Unfortunately, the Paulick Report prevents reader comments which limits our ability to directly shed light on your misstatements. I am hopeful, however, that this letter gets widespread attention so people can better understand your bias.

(Response from Ray Paulick: The Oct. 19 commentary accurately stated that only one drug positive has been prosecuted at New York Racing Association tracks in 2019, 2020 and 2021. I stand by the article as written.)

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